Overwhelming popular interest in Vietnam-bashing blog prompts Vietweek to ask foreigners how they feel about criticizing their adopted home
Foreigners stroll downtown Ho Chi Minh City
Scores of expats who reacted to a Vietweek article that followed up on a Huffington Post blog post titled "Why I'll Never Return to Vietnam" - which essentially listed a serious of negative experiences a tourist had here in 2007 - remained at odds on how far a foreigner should go in making sweeping generalizations about the people he or she has chosen to live among.
But they were mostly unanimous that Vietnam's tourism industry has much room for improvement.
"The taxi situation for example - very easy to fix but they keep getting it wrong," said Tim Russell, a British expat who runs a tour operator in Ho Chi Minh City.
Other than taxi scams, the foreign tourists and expats interviewed also pointed to a slew of other tourism woes such as lengthy visa-on-arrival procedures, public littering, spitting and urinating in public, reckless traffic, and yes, rip-offs.
Vietnamese authorities have acknowledged these problems and vowed to tackle them, without delivering many solid results.
Nguyen Van Tuan, general director of the Vietnam National Tourism of Administration, said in a recent interview that as long as tourist hassling and rip-off has remained, Vietnam's tourism industry would continue to lag behind.
"No matter how many promotion activities"¦ we're launching, if these problems are not adequately addressed, tourists will continue to turn their back to us," Tuan was quoted by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper as saying.
"˜Things that keep us here'
Russell, also a member of the Facebook group Another Side of Vietnam, came up with the idea of "writing about the good things" of Vietnam after "there have been a lot of negative articles." Another Side of Vietnam, a popular Facebook user group among the expat community in Vietnam, was originally made to show funny things people see in Vietnam, exclusive to the country, strange and funky.
The reason for this shift was a matter of "balance", according to Russell.
"Most expats, wherever they are, moan about their adopted countries when they get together," he said.
"As expats we often dwell on the negatives and rarely take time to stop and think about the things that kept us here.
"There are many expats"¦ who can't succeed in their own countries, can't find work. They can come here and have a good life, find decent paid work so they feel superior."
While many foreigners come to Vietnam thinking they have something to teach the Vietnamese, Russell said foreigners can learn things from the Vietnamese too.
Abdi Shakib, a 77-year-old Australian who came first to Vietnam in 2008 for a holiday and has returned the country since then on a regular basis, said expats "deliberately have chosen to live in this country with all its good or bad points."
"Even thinking of being above locals is disgusting, yet to practice it," Shakib told Vietweek.
Last December, Simon Lang, an Australian who teaches English in HCMC, posted a note on the notice board at his work, a HCMC foreign language center.
The notice read, "It is extremely rude and inconsiderate to come into the office every day and badmouth the country and its people."
The audience of the notice, Lang said, was his colleagues who "get addicted" to complaining about everything.
Lang said what most annoyed him was the fact that his colleagues tried to involve him in a conversation in which he had no interest.
"They are living in Vietnam. While we are enjoying our experiences, they only talk about their negative experiences," Lang told Vietweek. "There is a time you can have a bad experience and talk about it but don't come every day and talk about it. Everyone has a bad day.
"I wouldn't like someone from another country saying bad things about [my country] without good reasons."
Although the notice was pulled off the board just about half an hour later, Lang said there has been a positive change in the attitude of his colleagues since.
Lang was still able to fondly recall the remaining content of his notice.
"Vietnam is a wonderful place to live," it read. "If you don't have anything positive to say about it, or its people, then please go home."